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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

Review: "Lost Voices" by Sarah Porter

“Lost Voices”

Author: Sarah Porter

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children.

Pages: 304.

Synopsis (taken from GoodReads): What happens to the girls nobody sees—the ones who are ignored, mistreated, hidden away? The girls nobody hears when they cry for help?

Fourteen-year-old Luce is one of those lost girls. After her father vanishes in a storm at sea, she is stuck in a grim, gray Alaskan fishing village with her alcoholic uncle. When her uncle crosses an unspeakable line, Luce reaches the depths of despair. Abandoned on the cliffs near her home, she expects to die when she tumbles to the icy, churning waves below. Instead, she undergoes an astonishing transformation and becomes a mermaid.
A tribe of mermaids finds Luce and welcomes her in—all of them, like her, lost girls who surrendered their humanity in the darkest moments of their lives. The mermaids are beautiful, free, and ageless, and Luce is thrilled with her new life until she discovers the catch: they feel an uncontrollable desire to drown seafarers, using their enchanted voices to lure ships into the rocks.
Luce’s own talent at singing captures the attention of the tribe’s queen, the fierce and elegant Catarina, and Luce soon finds herself pressured to join in committing mass murder. Luce’s struggle to retain her inner humanity puts her at odds with her friends; even worse, Catarina seems to regard Luce as a potential rival. But the appearance of a devious new mermaid brings a real threat to Catarina’s leadership and endangers the very existence of the tribe. Can Luce find the courage to challenge the newcomer, even at the risk of becoming rejected and alone once again?

Cover impressions: Sometime after Stephenie Meyer’s “Breaking Dawn” was unleashed upon the world and the media was scrambling for the next big creature in YA, mermaids was tossed around as a possible substitute for vampires and werewolves, partly influenced by Meyer herself admitting to having a mermaid story in mind for a future novel. While this hypothesised craze never really came to fruition, there is a number of mermaid-related YA stories awaiting release or already in bookshops from the past year or so.

Sarah Porter’s debut, yet another first in a series, takes the mermaid mythos that has more in common with Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” than the incredibly sanitised Disney adaptation. While the mermaid and siren tradition has a rich and fascinating mythos, it’s not one that’s been explored very often in YA and Porter’s reinterpretation of themes from The Odyssey along with fairy tales of both Andersen and the Grimm Brothers is one of the strongest elements of the book. The story is unrelentingly bleak for the most part – girls are turned into mermaids after having suffered unimaginable abuse and pain at the hands of humans to the point where they give up on humanity. The mermaids live in a matriarchal society and use their siren-like voices to crash ships and kill those on board as a form of revenge for what humanity did to them. It definitely made a refreshing change from the stock paranormal format that has oversaturated the market.

Most of my problems with the book fall at the feet – or tail – of the protagonist Luce. She has a standard neglected orphan set-up which just manages to avoid falling into maudlin soap-opera territory (only just), and she does have some interesting moments, especially in her complex relationship with head mermaid Catarina. However, she veers from naive little girl to tortured hero with a passive martyr complex. I think most of these problems are the result of Porter’s prose, which is often clunky and repetitious but reasonably serviceable for the most part, except with Luce’s internal monologue. Her characterisation has a lot of potential – her coming to terms with what happened to her, discovering her new powers, wanting to fit in and stick to the mermaid code but still having her humanity – but it felt a little black and white at times, especially since practically none of the other mermaids had these issues. By the end of it all, Luce is the super special mermaid to end all super special mermaids and it’s so overdone. I was much more intrigued by Catarina’s story but Porter tries to introduce far too many characters so nobody is really given any time to truly develop beyond being abused girls turned vengeful mermaids. Most of the time it’s hard to remember which one is which since their personalities are so similar that they end up merging together. Things aren’t helped when even more characters are introduced with even less development. If you’re going to use something like abuse as a developmental point in a character’s life, you’d better make sure you do it well for fear of coming across as lazy and exploitative. In this case it’s more the former.

The plot is so deathly slow I didn’t think there was one for the most part. I understand Porter wanting to develop the mermaid way of life, and there is a lot of often repeated detail in this book, but it plods along at such a snail’s pace that I found myself getting bored on more than one occasion. Things pick up towards the end but you can’t just rush a plot 2/3s of the way through to make up for the rest of the book. Many interesting questions are raised, especially pertaining to the mermaids’ powers and their own twisted version of judgement, but few are answered. It’s a world that never truly reaches its potential.

If mermaids are to be the new creatures that fill our paranormal YAs in the future then I hope their worlds are at least as interesting as the one in “Lost Voices”. The mythos is clearly begging for some interesting interpretations and Porter gives us one that is bleak, complex and brimming with possibilities, which I hope it fulfils with the rest of the series. However, the plotting needs some serious work as does the characterisation of the supporting cast. There is definitely potential for Porter to develop and grow as a writer which will drastically improve the series but as this book stands, it’s not without merit but I was left with too many questions and too many problems.


"Lost Voices" will be released in USA on July 4th. I received my e-ARC from

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Review: "White Cat" by Holly Black.

“White Cat”

Author: Holly Black.

Publisher: Gollancz Fiction & Orion Publishing Group.

Pages: 310.

Synopsis (taken from GoodReads): Cassel comes from a family of curse workers — people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they're all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn't got the magic touch, so he's an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail — he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He's noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he's part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.

Cover impressions: Holly Black is the anti-Cassandra Clare. While Black’s series has been using cover quotes from Ms Clare (a good friend of Ms Black) to promote the series, Black’s writing stands leaps and bounds beyond anything Clare has ever written and “White Cat” is a brilliant read on pretty much every level.

It’s not often these days that I’m surprised by a YA book. Maybe it’s the market itself, maybe it’s my own YA oversaturation, but whatever the case may be, when a YA comes along that I find entertaining, creative, exciting, witty and mysterious and makes it all seem so effortless, I can’t help but get excited. (The book is classified as YA by some and adult sci-fi/fantasy by others, but since it was in the YA section of my library, I’ll classify is as such.)

Even if crime based novels aren’t your thing, I highly recommend this book. Taking the concept of underground crime families and adding magic to the equation, Black has created an exciting, detailed world full of depth and intrigue, populated by a wide variety of interesting characters and genuine surprises. There’s a definite Sopranos-style vibe throughout the novel, as double crossing and black market jargon are casually discussed, but it fits in wonderfully with a well crafted and extremely readable mystery. How refreshing to see this sort of story in YA where the stakes are genuinely high and things are at true risk. The pacing is quick and smooth, even during quieter moments where Black skilfully manages to avoid turning discussions into info-dump sessions. The way the crime world is intertwined with the magic element is almost seamless and I was particularly fascinated by the different types of magic workers and how their gifts are also curses. Black’s writing style is very much suited to this type of story; it’s crisp, often sparse, very witty and avoids any sort of unnecessary visits into the town of purple prose.

The narrator of this tale, Cassel Sharp, is a joy. That sounds like an exaggeration but hear me out. One, he actually sounds like a man. Two, he manages to be tortured and scared without ever becoming whiny or overwrought, which is no easy feat. His familial interactions are interesting and never quite what they seem (The Sharps themselves are a colourful bunch, all with their own secrets and problems with so much at stake.) Three, he actually grows and develops as a character! He’s a witty, sneaky and extremely intelligent man but he’s also confused, scared and haunted by his past. His family are hiding things from him, he’s hung up on his ex-girlfriend, he’s desperately trying to con his way back into school and then there’s those dreams that plague him. Everything is handled with skill and wit. He’s definitely one of the best protagonists in YA right now. It’s also incredibly refreshing to see the small romantic element of the story not completely overwhelm the plot. It’s something that’s definitely on Cassel’s mind but he’s got other things to worry about and he knows how to prioritise! Outside of Cassel, I had a huge soft spot for his grandfather as well as his mother. She’s only featured a few times and only ever in phone call conversations but you can feel her presence throughout the book. She’s definitely the head of the clan and it shows. I can’t wait for more of her in the sequel.

If I was to criticise anything about this book, it would be this small thing. The cons are described in great detail, which is fascinating, and Cassel frequently tells us, as do many other characters, how great they are at the job, but then they immediately screw up. It got a bit repetitive but luckily didn’t spoil this wonderful book for me. I heartily recommend “White Cat” to everyone, especially those of you who, like me, were getting a sick of paranormal YA. It’s not quite an accurate label for this series but Black excels in her field with this series, creating an intricate world with intrigue, complexities and fascinating characters, and I am thoroughly excited by the prospect of getting my hands on the sequel.


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Happy Ever After (registered trademark.)

(I know this isn't related to anything to do with YA but it's been bugging me for ages and I need to get it off my chest.)

I don’t care about the Royal Wedding. I’m not anti-Royalist, although I do have my objections with the system, and I wish Prince William and Kate Middleton all the luck in the world for their marriage. I just don’t want to have to put up with every news outlet on this side of the Atlantic (and a few on the other side) obsessing over this event as if our lives depended on it, nitpicking over every minute detail and throwing judgement down on the bride-to-be on every aspect of her life, from her clothes to her virginity (sadly, that’s not a joke). This was always going to be a day of celebration but the oversaturation of the press covering this as if it was a world crisis is just stupid, especially since there are actual crises of importance unfolding as we speak that desperately need more attention than a few waving flags and a big white dress. Mostly, I’ve been ignoring all the fuss, which is easier to do if you’re like me and don’t own a TV, and for the large part that’s been fine. But a recent visit to the bookshop led to me seeing something I just can’t ignore.

Sitting on a display shelf in the picture-book section were several copies of “William and Kate: The Royal Wedding” along with some other various titles featuring repetitions of the words “wedding” and “princess”. It’s no secret that pretty pink princesses and all the implied connotations are openly and frequently advertised to little girls with massive profits, but seeing a book for young girls barely up and walking telling them all about this magical fairytale wedding just freaked me out.

The princess phenomenon, and profiting from it, is nothing new. Disney have made it into an art-form, making anticipated sales of $4billion from their Disney Princess franchise. Go onto Google Shopping and google “Disney Princess” to see how many thousands of copyrighted merchandise with the Disney princess’s faces appears. Absolutely everything can be marketed as princess related, even freaking toothbrushes! These products saturate the market and are pushed specifically onto young girls. I’m sure I’ll get protests from people saying it’s just girls being girls, it’s a phase of life and they’ll grow out of it. That’s all well and good but why is it girls being girls? Gender is not black and white, or should I say pink and blue. It’s not something that’s decided from birth and is the set mould you must follow for the rest of your live

Check out this word cloud put together by “The Achilles Effect” blog on toy adverts and the terms most frequently associated with toys aimed and boys and those aimed at girls. For boys, it’s all about “battle”, “power”, “heroes”, “action” and so on. There’s nothing like that for girls, where the emphasis lies on nurturing, fashion and “babies”. Boys get to make things and be creative while girls get to look pretty and train to be mini-housewives. This is the same sort of stuff we see when we look at the princess phenomenon, especially Disney. The earlier princesses were as docile and passive as can be, doing cleaning and housework or just generally lounging around the forest with their woodland friends. For the majority of them, their focus is on getting a man, sometimes by any means possible (Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” sells her voice to get the man, pretty much forcing her to rely on her body to get the job done. Reminder: Ariel’s 16 years old. Snow White’s only supposed to be 13 or 14.) It’s only recently that the princesses have had any backbone or real development as characters, but the prince charming at the end remains the ultimate reward, except for Mulan.

Isn’t it a little worrying to see a corporation of extraordinary power and influence, one that controls a vast percentage of US and world media, pushing this gender expectation onto girls at their most impressionable age? Advertisers spend around $17billion a year advertising to kids, who will see tens of thousands of adverts a year. How are parents supposed to compete with that when it comes to letting their kids grow up without the influences of archaic gender expectations and unrealistic body images? There’s already so much pressure on girls of all ages to look perfect without the gender default mode being pushed onto kids on everything, from movies to t-shirts to toothbrushes. What about the girls who decide they don’t want to play with dolls and pink dresses, what options are there for them? Or the boys who do want to dress up and be the nurturer instead of the warrior? It’s not just girls who are being screwed over by this all – remember the JCrew advert of the mother painting her son’s toenails pink, and the completely ridiculous outrage it caused? (By the way ,that kid rocked hot pink.)

I’m not saying this is all the Royal Wedding’s fault or something. I’m sure Kate Middleton’s got enough on her plate without that. But when our media doesn’t grow out of its obsession for princesses and the perfect pure beauty, what are we left with? Our culture worships beauty, often placing it above intelligence and wit. Then there’s the obsession with purity. I almost gagged when I saw the headline “Is Kate Middleton a virgin?” It’s 2011 and we’re still shaming women into fitting the perfect princess mode of purity. Middleton, a woman with a St Andrews University degree, is valued by her press for her beauty and her supposed purity because that’s what will make her a good princess. That’s pathetic. The princess madness makes us judge little girls based on their looks, not their creativity or growing minds. I think the term ‘brainwashed’ is a little strong but it’s hard to think of another term to describe constant mass advertising telling little boys and girls what they should like, then having so-called journalists and experts say how abnormal it is for them to deviate from the norm. Obsessions with weddings are weird at any age for me, but there’s something almost dastardly about pushing this obsession onto kids, as if it’s the ultimate goal for them before they even really know what a wedding is. A lot of girls will grow out of this phase, and maybe it’ll just end with a lot of princess toys in the charity shop, but then they’ve got the big bad world of beauty obsessions, 12 page diet specials, plastic surgery TV shows, slut-shaming, virginity speculation and casual misogyny to deal with. The gender role continues. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that we tell the girls they can save the prince instead, that they're capable of being so much more than just a wife, or show them the over options beyond what Disney designates to be profitable. It’d be nice to have the choice.

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Tweet from @LisaMantchev...

Just got an email from Constable & Robinson... official word that WICKED PRETTY THINGS has been canceled.

Source. I'm assuming the publishers will release an official statement of sorts so I'll update this post when I can. Check out my big link heavy post for a full rundown of events.

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Review: "Ultraviolet" by R.J. Anderson


Author: R.J. Anderson.

Publisher: Orchard Books.

Pages: 384.

Synopsis (taken from GoodReads): Once upon a time there was a girl who was special.

This is not her story.

Unless you count the part where I killed her.

Sixteen-year-old Alison has been sectioned in a mental institute for teens, having murdered the most perfect and popular girl at school. But the case is a mystery: no body has been found, and Alison's condition is proving difficult to diagnose. Alison herself can't explain what happened: one minute she was fighting with Tori -- the next she disintegrated. Into nothing. But that's impossible. Right?

Cover impressions: I am a sucker for the dark side of literature. Growing up, I went through a massive phase of reading books about crime, serial killers and down-trodden detectives looking to solve the case, so seeing the synopsis of this book on NetGalley made it an instant must read for me. The book was surprising on many levels and it’s a real genre bender, not quite the straight forward dark thriller I thought it was going to be, but did it work?

Some of it worked rather well. It becomes evident very early on that Alison has the condition synaesthesia, where one’s senses cross over and interact in interesting ways. For Ali, this involves different numbers and letters having distinctive tastes and colours as well as some surprising experiences that occur throughout the book. I really enjoyed the way this was incorporated into the story and it provided a fascinating view of the world from a truly unique perspective. Anderson’s prose is particularly strong during these points and also rather beautiful. The more lyrical moments of prose don’t always work within the context of the story though; sometimes it felt a little jarring. It was always enjoyable to read but I questioned whether it was the right stylistic choice at these moments in time. While Ali’s narration is fascinating, it also means we sometimes don’t get a fully realised view of the world she lives in. This isn’t a problem to begin with – Anderson effectively creates a sense of foreboding and intrigue as Ali discovers what has happened – but then it goes a little off the rails, mainly because of Ali.

I didn’t mind Ali as a character. I understood her fear and sympathised with it for most of the book, plus her narration, as I said, was very lyrical and interesting at times. However, her decision making process left me feeling a little frustrated. I’m not a fan of characters avoiding the obvious for the sake of plot development. Sometimes it felt like Ali wasn’t allowed to progress because the author had decided it wasn’t time for that yet. While I understood Ali’s difficulties and worries over making certain choices, it still didn’t feel natural. I also felt like we didn’t get a lot of characterisation for the supporting players, especially Ali’s fellow patients and the mysterious Dr Faraday.

There are two small, very specific things in the book that I really want to touch upon, and to do this there may be slight spoilers.

Unfortunately, the book casually drops in one of my biggest irritants in YA fiction – the casual gay joke. One of Ali’s fellow patients, who is bipolar, makes several references to Dr Faraday being gay (he isn’t gay but the boy, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, keeps saying he is out of jealousy, I think) and no-one chastises him for it. Ali silently expresses disapproval but nobody points out how stupid and insulting it is to casually use homosexuality as a negative marker of someone. The boy was frequently punished for saying stupid thing so why not this? It’s a small thing, I know, but I’ve seen it used so frequently in fiction without any character, or even the omniscient narration, taking the time to say it’s wrong, and it bugs me because we’ve still got this society that uses ‘That’s gay’ as some ultimate insult. Homosexuality is still somehow the acceptable insult these days.

The other problematic element I had also involves this young man forcing himself on Ali. She pushes him back, screams and makes it pretty clear that she doesn’t want this and when the boy has the audacity to be insulted by this, she say sorry. Even though she mentions in her narration that she really isn’t sorry, she still says it. She didn’t have to say it! She wasn’t the one at fault here; mental illness or not, the woman, or man, shouldn’t apologise for having someone force his or herself upon her/him! Later on, the issue is dealt with and the boy is punished but this little scene still nagged at me so I had to address it.

Overall, I like a lot of thing about “Ultraviolet.” The incorporation of synaesthesia was fascinating and well handled, providing an often beautiful and unique narration, and the set-up is intriguing for the most part. I admire Anderson for taking the book out of the comfort zone and not sticking to the well worn and seductively easy routes YA has so often been taking lately. It doesn’t always work but I was never bored by what I read, even if some of it was a little sketchily developed. The strong elements that kept me reading were let down by some weaker moments of plotting and characterisation. I’m really not sure how to rate this book. It’s either a 2.5 or a 3 out of 5. There’s definitely a lot to enjoy in the book and it’s refreshing to see something unique in the genre right now, but for all its strengths it could have definitely been stronger.

2.5 or 3/5 (apologies for my indecisiveness, I genuinely spent ages trying to pick one and couldn’t!)

“Ultraviolet” will be available to read in USA on 2nd June 2011. I received my ARC from

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